Letter of the Week – … going through all my Hot Stampers and taking it all in …

Customer Testimonials

More on The Stereo

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This week’s letter comes from our good friend Franklin who was having some serious sound problems that were driving him crazy after moving his speakers from the long wall (not a good idea) to the short one (much better as a rule).

He already had one pair of Hallographs, which had helped his room problems quite a bit. We rely on three pair, and the second and third pair were a big improvement over the first, so we recommended another to Franklin, which, by the sound of this letter, seems to have worked miracles!

This link will take you to the commentary for our Blood Sweat and Tears albums similar to the one that Franklin references.

Hello Mr. Port,

Just to let you know what you already know about this LP. When I first received this ($500) LP and listened to it, I thought I had really messed up.

I didn’t hear all the nuances you described. I just put it away and forgot about it. What a BUMMER!!!!! But I decided to try it again after placing the new pair of Hallos. I moved them all over the place. I even have the floor marked all over with painter’s masking tape to remind me where the best spots are for the Hallos. Floor really looks funny.

Sometimes when you make a change, it seems to be better for some LPs but not others. But when a change impacts all the LPs positively, you know you are in the game. I am going through all my Hot Stampers and taking it all in. I will tweak some more but for now I’ll just enjoy.

Regards,
Franklin

Franklin,

Thanks so much for your letter. When your system is cookin’ and you’re hearing all your records sound better than ever, that’s when audio is FUN. You had to do a lot of work to get there and the good sound you are able to enjoy now is your reward.

It’s amazing to me how little audiophiles are interested in actually making their stereos sound better. You reap what you sew in this hobby. Mediocre sound is easy; good sound is very very hard — that’s why I so rarely hear anything outside of my own system that strikes me as any good. Most audiophiles haven’t worked very hard on their stereos and they have the sound to prove it.

We write a lot about the ENERGY and POWER found on the best pressings of some recordings; the BS&T record we sent you is a perfect example. It’s the kind of recording with so much going on that it is guaranteed to bring practically any stereo system to its knees. When a record such as this gets loud, all the problems of your stereo become impossible to ignore. (One reason The Turn Up Your Volume Test is such a great test; the louder the problem, the harder it is to ignore.)

Turn Down the Volume, or Solve the Problem?

Rather than simply turn down the volume, why not solve the problem? That’s what the Hallographs do. All that energy that’s bouncing around your room is causing huge amounts of distortion. If you’re like most audiophiles it’s one of the main reasons you can’t play your system loud. The sound will become strident, edgy and sour; the soundstage will lose its shape and collapse into a chaotic mess; the bass definition will go out the window, turn bloated and get up into the midrange where it had no business being . These are mostly room problems. No matter how good your equipment is, these problems attend to most listening rooms. Concert halls aren’t twenty feet wide, but there sure are a lot of listening rooms that size, and smaller, which means room reflections are sending the sound waves crashing into each other all over the place.

The Hallos help control these reflections. Other products do too I’m sure but the Hallos are the best we’ve heard for the money. (Some room treatments are ridiculously expensive, way out of my price range. I’m sure not going to lose any sleep over what they do because I simply can’t afford them.) The Hallos are so good we give you your money back if you don’t like them.

Help Is On The Way

Or you can choose not to be bothered. Me, I like my music loud, the way live music is loud. Hallographs let me have my sound. I wouldn’t bother to play my stereo if I didn’t have Hallos in the room, because that would mean it couldn’t give me the sound I want. As Franklin well knows, Hallographs are a change that impacts everything positively. With your first pair you may very well find yourself doing what Franklin is doing: going back through all your favorite records and taking it all in. That’s when audio is FUN.

Can Hallographs solve all your problems for you? Hell no. But they can help you, with a little work, to solve some of them. And in my book, that’s a lot.

Best,
TP

Yes – The Yes Album

More Yes

The Yes Album

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  • A Big As Life copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides – I’ve Seen All Good People is mindblowing on this side one
  • You haven’t begun to hear the power and size of Yes’s brilliant third album until you’ve played one of our Shootout Winning early domestic pressings
  • A Top 100 Album and the band’s best sounding record if you ask us (although Fragile can sound absolutely amazing too, just not as smooth and rich)
  • “Organist Tony Kaye, guitarist Steve Howe and bass player Chris Squire play as though of one mind, complementing each other’s work as a knowledgeable band should.”

Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl, as is the case on this side two. The best sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl notwithstanding. If you can tolerate the imperfections of this pressing you are in for some amazing Yes music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.


Drop the needle on this bad boy and you will find yourself on a Yes journey the likes of which you have never known. And that’s what I’m in this audiophile game for. The Heavy Vinyl crowd can have their dead-as-a-doornail, wake-me-when-it’s-over pressings that play quietly. I couldn’t sit through one with a gun to my head.

With the amazing Eddie Offord at the board, as well as the best batch of songs ever to appear on a single Yes album, they produced both their sonic and musical masterpiece — good news for audiophiles with Big Speakers who like to play their records loud.

These guys — and by that I mean this particular iteration of the band, the actual players that were involved in the making of this album — came together for the first time and created the sound of Yes on this very album, rather aptly titled when you think about it.

What amazing sides on Yes’s Breakthrough Album have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1970
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

These sides are smooth and full-bodied, with plenty of bottom end WHOMP. The guitars are Tubey Magical with a fluid sound that takes the brilliant solos of Mr Steve Howe to a whole new level.

The transparency is also mindblowing — you can easily pick out each multi-tracked voice and follow it throughout the course of a song. The cymbal crashes are big and powerful with lovely high-end extension.

What We’re Listening For on The Yes Album

The main qualities we look for when we shootout Yes records are:

1. Dynamics – The best copies have amazing dynamics. Some parts of this album should be STARTLING in their power. There is a fair amount of compression on this recording in places, don’t get me wrong, but on the right copies many passages of this music will have tremendous life and energy.

2. Smoothness – This album can be harsh and unpleasant if the upper midrange is boosted at all, or lacks a full lower midrange to balance it out. The last thing in the world you want is a bright, harsh Yes record.

3. Bass – Bass definition and weight are CRUCIAL to the sound of this record. The thin-sounding copies rob Yes’s music of much of its POWER and are downgraded severely for it.

The Seventies – What a Decade!

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and remasterings).

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, ELP, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

Big Production Tubey Magical British Prog Rock just doesn’t get much better than The Yes Album.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Yours Is No Disgrace
The Clap 
Starship Trooper

  • a. “Life Seeker”
  • b. “Disillusion”
  • c. “Würm”

Side Two

I’ve Seen All Good People

  • a. “Your Move”
  • b. “All Good People”

A Venture 
Perpetual Change

Rolling Stone Review

With one notable exception, Yes’ configuration has remained stable since the first of its three albums was released two years ago. Singer Jon Anderson spearheaded Yes then and still does. But some time after Yes recorded its second album, Time and a Word, guitarist Peter Banks left the band to replace Mick Abrahams who had similarly abandoned Blodwyn Pig. Before anything much happened with the newly aligned Blodwyn, Kim Simmonds lured bassist Andy Pyle and drummer Ron Berg over to Savoy Brown. What Banks is doing now is anybody’s guess. His replacement is Steve Howe, a guitarist of equal caliber who featured prominently on Yes’ third record.

The Yes Album differs from its two predecessors in several respects. For the first time, everything the group performs is original material. Although Yes deserves praise for having matured to the point where it can supply enough of its own songs for an entire album, I personally miss hearing one of two versions of someone else’s songs, like “I See You” and “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed,” which the group arranged and performed brilliantly on its first and second albums, respectively. In addition, the material consists of fewer short songs and more lengthy pieces. The only three-minute tracks on this record are “The Clap,” Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar quickie recorded at one of Yes’ concerts in London, and “A Venture,” a straightforward rocker sandwiched between a pair of longer compositions on the second side.

Each of the album’s four long tracks are carefully structured and allow for greater instrumental freedom than their shorter counterparts. Frequently, a particular melodic theme first stated by one musician is echoed by another, such as in “Yours Is No Disgrace” and “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Organist Tony Kaye, guitarist Steve Howe and bass player Chris Squire play as though of one mind, complementing each other’s work as a knowledgeable band should. Squire in particular deserves to be singled out for his creative bass work throughout the album. Bill Bruford’s tasteful drumming never falls in the way of the other musicians.

As for the vocals, Yes has an ear for harmony and takes full advantage of this asset. Squire and Howe supplement Anderson’s delightful leads with harmonies in the upper register. On the first hearing, Yes’ vocals may seem too perfectly matched to be enjoyable and this has presented the group with its chief obstacle toward mass acceptance because there is no deep voice to counter the sound of Yes’ falsetto harmonies, some have refused to accept the group and its unusual vocal style. If Yes were to change its format by adding a singer who can contribute a lower voice, then the band would lose its distinctive identity. The high-pitched singing is what sets Yes apart from myriad other British bands who can also play their asses off, a qualification that has become all too commonplace nowadays.

Forget your inhibitions and take The Yes Album home with you. It may not cure the common cold, but you’ll never get sick from hearing it.

– John Koegel, 7-22-71.

“It was the addition of Steve Howe’s guitar pyrotechnics that finally allowed Yes to find their true identity. The Yes Album is a giant leap forward,” wrote J. D. Considine in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide

Background

Yes had started their career being a covers band, performing radical re-arrangements of hit songs, and their first two albums included covers in this vein. However, The Yes Album was the first to feature group-written material in its entirety. Some familiar elements remained; Anderson, Howe and Squire sang three-part vocal harmony throughout the record, while Squire’s melodic bass and Bill Bruford’s spacious drumming made up their unique rhythm section.

“Yours Is No Disgrace” originated from some lyrics written by Anderson with his friend David Foster. This was combined with other short segments of music written by the band in rehearsals. Howe worked out the opening guitar riff on his own while the rest of the band took a day’s holiday. The backing track was recorded by the group in sections, then edited together to make up the final piece.

Howe’s solo acoustic tune, “Clap” (wrongly written as “The Clap” in original album pressings), was influenced by Chet Atkins and Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas”. The piece was written to celebrate the birth of Howe’s son Dylan on 4 August 1969. The version that appears on the album was recorded live at the Lyceum Theatre in London on 17 July 1970.

The spacey, electronic-sounding effect in “Starship Trooper” was achieved by running the guitar backing track through a flanger. Anderson wrote the bulk of the song, while Squire wrote the “Disillusion” section in the middle. The closing section, “Würm” is a continuous cadenza of chords (G-E?-C) played ad lib. It evolved from a song called “Nether Street” by Howe’s earlier group, Bodast.

“I’ve Seen All Good People” is a suite of two tunes. Anderson wanted the piece to start quietly and develop, leading into a large church organ sound, before moving into the funky second movement. The band had difficulty recording the initial “Your Move” section, which was resolved by making a tape loop of bass and drums, over which Howe overdubbed a Portuguese 12-string guitar, miscrediting it as a “vachalia” on the album’s credits.

Anderson wrote “A Venture” in the studio, which was arranged by the rest of the band. Kaye played piano on the track, contributing a jazzy solo towards the end. Howe played a guitar solo on the original recording, but it was left off the final mix, which faded out just as it started The song was never played live by the original group, but an arrangement was worked out when Yes decided to play the whole album live in 2013.

Anderson was inspired to write the lyrics for “Perpetual Change” by the view of the countryside from the cottage at Churchill. The middle of the track features a polyrhythmic structure, where two pieces of music in different time signatures are playing simultaneously. (A riff in 14/8 pans to one side of the stereo while a chorus in 7/4 appears on the left.)

Big Prog

Yes easily qualifies as one of the handful of bands to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s, music that holds up to this day. Their albums, so musically multi-faceted and multi-layered, will surely reward the listener who takes the time to dive deep into the complexities of their sound.

Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen the more you are apt to discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by the band. And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of their recordings.

Shooting Out the Tough Ones

Yes albums always make for tough shootouts. Like Pink Floyd, a comparably radio-friendly Pop Prog band, their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording makes it difficult to translate their complex sounds to disc, vinyl or otherwise. Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.

If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting around sweating the details when sitting down to test a complex recording such as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be).

Obsessing over every aspect of record reproduction is what we do for a living. Yes’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing their albums as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.

When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun, but still fun nonetheless.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many of even the most dedicated of audiophiles would have more than one of two clean vintage pressings with which to do a shootout? These kinds of records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of original pressings of Classic Rock albums.

One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

Fleetwood Mac – Penguin

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  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our recent shootout  
  • This early Reprise LP is a huge step up from most – this copy is full-bodied, smooth and musical – classic Fleetwood Mac sound
  • One of my favorite songs on the album is one of Christine McVie’s best from this period, Did You Ever Love Me – on this pressing it’s rich and sweet exactly the way it should be
  • “Fleetwood Mac’s first album made after the departure of Danny Kirwan features the additions of guitarist Bob Weston and singer Dave Walker… This album gave Fleetwood Mac its best U.S. chart showing yet…”

This is the rare copy that strikes the right balance between richness and texture. So many copies sacrifice one for the other, but not here. Fully extended on both top and bottom, with big bass and plenty of energy, this pressing is getting Penguin right. 

On the best pressings, the sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers in a way that is completely unexpected. We often talk about the size of the soundfield on a particular pressing, side to side, bottom to top, and even more often about the energy found on one copy relative to another. On this copy, we were surprised by a Penguin that was bigger and more energetic than most of the pressings we heard in our shootout. (more…)

Everything But the Beer / Fiedler Conducts a Boston Pops Concert – Reviewed in 2012

More recordings conducted by Arthur Fiedler

Everything But the Beero

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This VERY RARE 2 LP Shaded Dog pressing has Super Hot Stamper sound. Much of what’s good about Golden Age recordings is heard here, with side one for example having the sound of a HUGE hall and that Three-Dimensional quality that the best vintage recordings are able to convey so well.

We constantly knock Heavy Vinyl here at Better Records for the simple reason that we play vintage recordings such as this by the score every month and can hear what they do so well. Unfortunately the huge hall and the 3-D soundstaging they effortlessly reproduce cannot be found on any Heavy Vinyl pressing we know of.

Such qualities allow this record to sound — in some ways, to be sure not all — like live music. Heavy Vinyl just plain doesn’t. (more…)

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain – Our Shootout Winner in 2016

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More Sketches of Spain

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

The first White Hot copy to hit the site in nearly EIGHT years! Both sides were stunning, knocking us out and earning our top Triple Plus (A+++) grade.

When you get a Hot Stamper like this one the sound is truly MAGICAL. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) Tons of ambience, tubey magic all over the place; let’s face it, this is one of those famous Columbia recordings that shows just how good the Columbia engineers were back then. The sound is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite just like the real thing. What more can you ask for?

Harry Pearson added this record to his TAS List of Super Discs a few years back, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording?

Of course you can be quite sure that he would have been listening exclusively to the earliest pressings on the Six Eye label. Which simply means that he probably never heard a copy with the clarity, transparency and freedom from distortion that these later label pressings offer.

The Six Eyes are full of Tubey Magic, don’t get me wrong; Davis’s trumpet can be and usually is wonderful sounding. It’s everything else that tends to suffer, especially the strings, which are shrill and smeary on most copies: Six Eyes, 360s and Red Labels included. (more…)

Art Garfunkel – Breakaway

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More Breakaway

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Both sides are transparent, open, and spacious, with dramatically more life and energy than the typical pressing. The bottom end on this copy is surprisingly meaty as well, with far more punch than most of the pressings we played. 

The keyboards are full and rich, the guitars ring just right. This copy is killer in practically every way. You will be hard-pressed to imagine it sounding much better than it does here.

The problem with this album is that, for whatever reason, practically every copy you find is, to some degree, grainy, harsh and shrill in the loudest passages of the music. When the music gets loud, the sound often becomes strained and unpleasant. A copy like this one that doesn’t do that is the exception, not the rule. (more…)

The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday

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More Younger Than Yesterday

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

It ain’t easy to find great sounding copies of this album on decent vinyl, but we managed to get a hold of a hot one here. White Hot in fact. Not only that, but the vinyl’s pretty darn quiet! The sound is very tubey with excellent transparency and serious immediacy.

Most Byrds’ records are far from audiophile demo discs. However, what the best originals and ’70s reissues give you is relatively good sound.

This album will never sound as good as Abbey Road. Keeping that rather obvious point in mind, as I listened to this copy the thought that went through my mind is that this tape had been mastered about as well as it could be.

It’s tonally correct from top to bottom; the frequency extremes are there; and the vocals have a silky, sweet quality to them (when they haven’t been bounced down too many times of course).

Recommended Tracks (more…)

INXS – Listen Like Thieves

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Listen Like Thieves

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  • Superb sound throughout with each side earning a sonic grade of Double Plus (A++) – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The Big Rock sound is courtesy of Chris Thomas’ production – if you know his work, you know this sound
  • AMG: “INXS completes its transition into an excellent rock & roll singles band with this album.”
  • “…with Thomas they “forge an unlikely union between the sonic extremism of Led Zeppelin-style crunch rock and the step-lively beat of disco” such that the album “rocks with passion and seals the deal with a backbeat that’ll blackmail your feet.”

(more…)

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – You’re Gonna Get It!

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You’re Gonna Get It!

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  • A solidly hard rockin’ copy with seriously good grades of Double Plus (A++) or BETTER on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Rich and open with a killer bottom end, musically it’s surely the best record Tom Petty ever made – a late ’70s Rock Classic 
  • Three of Petty’s best songs are on this one – Restless, I Need To Know and Listen To Her Heart – and they sound amazing
  • “Overall, the current LP boasts an impressive stylistic cohesiveness with its predecessor, but what makes the album exciting are the fresh hints of openness and expansion just beneath the surface. The rhythms are a bit looser, and there’s a new emphasis on Petty’s rough, driving, rock & roll guitar in the mix.” Rolling Stone

Sweetly textured guitars, breathy vocals — all the subtleties of a High Quality Recording are here, along with prodigious amounts of bass and powerful dynamics. Check out that drum sound! If you can play this one at the levels it demands you might just be shocked at how good it sounds. (more…)